Last night, Mikayla was able to participate in a skype chat with two brothers who lived only a few huts away from her in the small Ethiopian village where they all were born. The three also spent time living together in the same care centers, and we happened to travel to Ethiopia to bring Mikayla home at the same time that the boys' parents traveled to bring them home. The kids have always shared a special bond thanks to these many connections. We have set-up opportunities for them to Skype previously, but they didn't necessarily have the language skills and the maturity to carry on much of a conversation without a lot of assistance from us parents - they mostly would just giggle and laugh at seeing one another through the computer, and then bring various items to the webcam to "show" either other (such as shoes, toys, etc.). Last night though, they really did a great job talking without a whole lot of intervention from the parents. They discussed things like: school, riding bikes, ballet, taekwondo, movies, songs (they even sang a few!), memories from Ethiopia, Chinese characters/language (the boys live in China now), Disney princesses, pets (the various pets from each home made an appearance on camera), drawing, foods, and more! It was so much fun to listen and watch them interact - they cracked me up quite a few times!
One thing that I really appreciate is that the older of the two brothers (he is also older than Mikayla) has quite a few memories from their Ethiopian village, and he is able to share things with her. Mikayla doesn't remember anything about the village, other than what we tell her. Even her memories of the care center are fading, other than what she sees in pictures and what we talk about. So last night, her friend asked her if she remembered the black and white dog that used to live at her house (I think it might have mainly been used as a guard dog). She of course did not remember, but now she knows she had one! And for her, it's one more clue (ie - connection) to her past.
I "strategically" set Eli up with a video game during the skype chat, so that Mikayla could really use the time to speak for herself (instead of brother speaking for her or over her), but he did get to make an appearance at the end of the chat and he he now talks about the boys as if they are his personal friends as well (lol). I think it does benefit him to witness that relationship, as it will help him to continue to understand and appreciate the importance of Mikayla's Ethiopian connections as they grow up.
In our foster training, we discussed at length the importance of helping children who are in foster care or adopted to maintain CONNECTIONS. Connections were defined as, "the important ties we have to people, values, beliefs, ideas, places and things." Maintaining connections is healthy for a child for so many reasons - it affirms who they are and where they come from, it helps them to make sense of things, and in some cases it may be the key in allowing them to maintain or create healthy attachments. Children who are in foster care, or whom have been adopted, have experienced tremendous loss in their lives (even those who are adopted as infants!). It is our job, as foster and adoptive parents, to help children understand and grieve their losses in healthy ways. It is also our job to affirm their past and where they come from (no matter how dire the circumstances were in a child's situation - it is still a part of who they are), and whenever possible maintain connections to that part of their lives. In doing all of this, children have the opportunity and freedom to be confident in who they are, know where they come from, and understand why things happened (good or bad). I read an awesome article during our training that was specifically about foster children, but the same can be said for any child who was adopted - "A second issue is children's sense of who they are... instead of a consistent story about who they are, they have a history with confusion in it. They don't know where they came from. It is not unusual for foster children to think they came full grown, that they did not grow inside a mother, and that they were not born. Some foster children under eight or nine will tell you they were never born, that they just came, that they somehow appeared in a foster home at about age three. These children have an exceedingly difficult time reattaching to a family when they are adopted, because they cannot attach and go through a process of separation from what has happened to them in the past. They can'd do it because they don't understand what's happened. It is very important that we communicate to them very clearly about everything that has happened to them."
The bottom line? Attachment necessary. Attachment is also hard work. We have been wading through attachment issues with Mikayla since she came home 2.5 years ago. I feel encouraged to look at where we are now, and where we once were. But our attachment journey is by no means over. In fact, I would say that to some extent she will continue to rise and fall on the attachment continuum based on her age, situations/triggers, etc. When we first came home with Mikayla we had many boundaries in regards to her interactions with other adults - we were the only ones allowed to meet any of her basic needs because we knew the healthy attachments needed to be formed first and primarily with us (I would compare it to how new parents relate to a newborn baby). I will never forget the day when Mikayla was going through a phase of resisting affection toward me and from me, yet ran and jumped into a woman's lap at church (who she didn't even know) and gave her a big hug. Sign of attachment problems? Yes. Things have come a long way since then, but there are still times when my "mommy gut" kicks in and I can discern that certain behaviors with Mikayla may appear "normal" to someone else, are signs of attachment issues resurfacing. I just recently had to put a new boundary in place with her in regards to a specific behavior she was demonstrating with other people. The comment I received was, "all little girls do that." Well, maybe so, but I know my little girl... I know her past, I know her hurts, and I know when something "normal" is not actually "normal" for her. Next to giving Mikayla unconditional love, and teaching her about Jesus' love for her, I consider our most important job to be helping her create healthy attachments (and break cycles of unhealthy attachment behaviors). Why? To again use the words from the article that I felt stated it very well - "Adults don't have to be attached to children. Adults don't have to be attached to one another. We like to be attached to our husbands and wives, but we are not going to die without it. We may go through grief but we aren't going to go through all kinds of developmental problems. Children must be attached. They simply must. They cannot develop normally without being attached to one adult over a period of time because their whole sense of safety, their whole sense of the world, their whole sense of learning, depends on it."
Our prayer for our own children, as well as any children whom we have the privilege of fostering, is that they will come to know the love of Jesus in such a way that above all the other things that could "define" them, we pray that their identity will be grounded in being a beloved child of God. That identity is so much greater and so much more powerful than any other labels... it is greater than being "adopted," a "Hutchison," "Ethiopian," "American," "foster child," "black," "white," "brown," and everything in between. He is the Great Physician, capable of healing hurts too deep for our human efforts to touch. He has the power to restore, to make whole, and to prosper. We rest in knowing that Eli and Mikayla are His children, and His love for them goes far deeper than ours ever could. The same is true of our future foster children who will no doubt enter our home with hurts, loss, and grief. Psalm 139 reminds us that He created them, He knit them together in the womb, they are fearfully and wonderfully made, He wove them together in the depths of the earth, His eyes saw their unborn bodies and He ordained all of their days before one even came to be. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" Jeremiah 29:11.